Tim and Tyne Daly Play Siblings, Onstage and Off

“We pitch and catch pretty good with this, and we watch each other.”

Tim and Tyne Daly. Photo: Victoria Stevens for Vulture
Tim and Tyne Daly. Photo: Victoria Stevens for Vulture

The photographer shooting Tim and Tyne Daly for this story asks, at her editor’s request, if the two actors can smile to emphasize their brother-sister relationship. Tyne laughs, and says that editor must not have any brothers and sisters, because siblings are a lot more complicated than that. She is an expert on the subject, professionally and personally. Tyne, 72, and Tim, 62, are the second and fourth children, respectively, of actors James Daly and Hope Newell, and they are performing together this fall in Theresa Rebeck’s drama Downstairs at Primary Stages, playing characters who are also brother and sister. Though they’ve both made careers in theater and onscreen — she in Cagney & Lacey and Gypsy, he in Wings and The Sopranos — this is the first time they’ve appeared onstage together, not counting a stunt-cast play they did with their parents as kids.

Tim, from what I understand, this story starts with you suggesting to Theresa Rebeck that she write a play for the two of you.
Tim: I did a play of hers, The Scene, also directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, at the Dorset Theatre Festival, which is near Theresa’s and my homes in Vermont. She said to me, “What are we going to do next?” I said, “Why don’t you write a play for my sister and me?” half-joking. She said, “Don’t say that unless you mean it.”

Tyne: She’s a wonderful playwright, and I had seen The Scene before, and I said yes. [But] I thought it was just talk, and she actually came through.

Tim: If you stick around long enough and a writer likes you, they often say, “I’m going to write something amazing for you.” It virtually never happens.

Tyne: Except if you’re Terrence McNally. That happens sometimes.

Tim: Maybe it’s different for Tyne Daly. For Tim Daly, it never happens.

Tyne: You’ve only just begun, darling. I’ve got a decade on you.

You’re playing siblings who are living together. Have you lived together yourselves?
Tim: We lived together during the making of the play [at the Dorset Theatre Festival]. It was mostly just the two of us, hanging out and doing our thing and vibing.

Tyne: He’s extremely eccentric about his food, and I try to smoke on the porch without getting in anybody’s way.

Tim: “Eccentric” means healthy. I try not to eat too much shit.

Were you close growing up?
Tyne: I think we were. We had a lovely place outside of New York City — our parents’ deal fell apart when Timmy was about 11.

Tim: 8.

Tyne: I was in school. But my sisters and I — as a trio, before the arrival of Tim — had traveled around a lot. What Timmy got, I think, that we didn’t get was the kind of stable thing: being in the same school from the beginning. That seemed like a kind of consistency that Glynnis and Peg and I did not experience.

Tim: One of the things that Theresa understands in this play is how people in the same family have utterly different memories of the same event. I wouldn’t dispute that there was an element of stability because I grew up in the same place. But I would argue that Tyne was gone by the time I was 8 or 9, and those next few years were, for me, anything but stable.

Tyne: No, I was not pretending that my understanding of it had anything to do with your experience of it. Everybody gets different parents. They come into their parents’ marriages at different stages of their lives.

Did you know you wanted to follow them into acting?
Tyne: I was totally glamorized by their life and their work. We were watching them work a lot as little kids, on the stage and then in the television studios. From about 8 or so, I was completely certain and quite boringly focused. I couldn’t wait to get out of their house and to the Antrim Playhouse.

Tim: I never thought it was all that glamorous. The actors in my life were drinking and carrying on and smoking and telling stories, and I wanted fucking dinner. That said, I loved being in a theater, and I loved the conceit of it all. Tyne was much braver than I am, and it took me a while to understand whether or not I had the personality to be an actor professionally. My dad was working all the time when I was growing up, and I loved watching him work. Tyne was not working all the time, and then she started, and then she had huge success and made me proud and happy. But again, I didn’t see the glamour of it. I saw Tyne busting her ass, slaving away —

Tyne: And a lot of complaining. I promised probably 8 or 900 times never to shed a tear over this work, and I have to anyway. But it was a family business, and there’s the luck factor we haven’t talked about.

Tim: One of the things that I got is that the theater, for our parents, was our temple. You were not to desecrate it. What I didn’t get — oddly, because my dad and Tyne were professionals — is, I got to New York and I didn’t really know that you needed a head shot and a résumé. All this talk about Shakespeare and Shaw and Gibson, and you’re telling me I need a fucking head shot?

Tyne: You didn’t do the fan mail with Dad?

Tim: He was gone when I was 8. I couldn’t do that — I could barely read.

This is the first play you’ve done together, apart from Jean Kerr’s Jenny Kissed Me in 1963. Though I’ve read you say that doesn’t count.
Tim: Certainly not for me because it was a gimmick. They wrote me in, I ran onstage, I said, “Hi, Father” — because my father played a priest — and then I ran away and I said, “Good-bye, Father.” I never made the curtain call because I was throwing rocks in the river with my pal, who was the son of some other actor.

Tyne: Glynnis was a walk-on, and the idea was that my dad and mother would do a run for the summer at Bucks County, and I would play [Jenny] the ingenue. Then, minutes before we started, my dad’s agent said, “Tyne’s not ready.” Her client would actually play Jenny, and I would play Rosalee, the girl with the fat legs who’s in two scenes.

Tim: But you had such great legs.

Tyne: I wore symmetricals [thick stockings] to make my legs big, and then in the second appearance, you could show your actual legs. For some reason, Jean Kerr thought that you actually gained and lost weight in your legs.

Photo: Victoria Stevens for Vulture

Tyne, you are filming Murphy Brown right now. How are you coordinating the jobs?
Tyne: At this stage of the game, they have figured it out, so that we can maximize time for both. It’s kind of crazy, but I wasn’t ready to relinquish this play for the other things. They kept saying, “CBS just wants to know that they’re first.” I had to say, “Well, they’re not. Theresa Rebeck is first, and if you guys can figure it out, that’s great.” To be in that position feels very satisfying, after 70. Timmy’s just a kid, so he’ll find out about the power.

Tim, you’re shooting Madam Secretary now, too.
Tim: Everything else has fallen away. All I can do is concentrate on this play and on what I have to do for Madam Secretary. I can’t think about my laundry —

Tyne: — And feeding yourself.

Tim: I do feed myself my eccentric food.

Tyne: It’s all green, all of it.

You’re both on shows on CBS right now. What was your reaction to the news about Les Moonves?
Tyne: Well, (a) there’s nothing new about the casting couch. And (b) the fact that powerful people take advantage of the young and hopeful is disgusting. More should’ve changed. I had the protection of my dad and his reputation and my husband — I was married very early. I used to think there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t getting hit on more. I remember with Tim, too, early on — I don’t think we talk enough about how men are taken advantage of, in terms of powerful people.

Tim: Without getting into the specifics of an individual accused of something, I hope that we keep discussion happening. When people start saying, “The thing about men is,” that’s as bad as saying, “The thing about women,” “The thing about black people,” “The thing about immigrants,” or anything like that. It’s about taking shame and passing it around rather than having a real discussion about what’s happening.

Have you taken lessons from each other’s careers?
Tim: We’ve both had successes, sometimes pretty big. Both done stuff that’s stupid. Sometimes we did things because we needed to pay the rent or feed a child. This is not a criticism of Tyne, but I think that I have to remind myself that there are millions of people who would give one of their limbs to be doing what I’m doing. When I see Tyne struggling with something, I try to remind myself to not struggle.

Tyne: I suffer and weep and complain and gnash my teeth. I should probably have a better time. But in terms of watching my brother work, I always have a really good time watching him work. Whether that’s because he’s my brother, I don’t care. I like his act a lot. This experience we had this summer, playing with each other, is just really fine. We pitch and catch pretty good with this, and we watch each other. I’m liking him as an actor on the stage, and I’ve always appreciated him as an actor from the audience.

I hear you each arrived today with a question to ask the other.
Tyne: I want to tell your thing about generalization.

Tim: That was my question to you. I was going to say, “Tyne, how come everyone always makes generalizations about everything?”

Tyne: Mine to you was one that I’m sure you’ve had to handle, “Do you sleep in the nude?”

Tim: The true story is that I slept in the nude my entire life until Sam, my son, was just crotch high. I was like, Okay, I need to have some barrier from Sam’s rambunctious curiosity, so on went some boxer shorts.

Tyne: It’s so curious: My baby brother is a dad of both a boy and a girl and a granddad, about to be, for the second time.

Has the way you decide what jobs you want to take changed over time?
Tim: It’s been my experience that I don’t have a ton of choice. I still feel as if there’s something out there that is going to really exploit all my talent that I haven’t found yet. I may always feel that way until I drop dead. That’s sort of a good feeling in a way. I’m still after something. I’m not as desperate about it as I was 20 or 30 years ago, but I don’t know.

Tyne: If you get to be lucky enough to have choices, that’s great. But even before that, Daddy also talked about, “Is it a responsible part?” That doesn’t mean a star part — is there something to do? Is there something to tell? Sometimes you just do it for the hell of it. I also think even though I hadn’t been required to audition for a long time, I have always been willing to.

Tim: I changed my mind totally about auditioning because I realized that I really like acting.

Tyne: Exactly right — a chance to act on Thursdays.

Tim and Tyne Daly on Playing Siblings, Onstage and Off